Florida’s first bear hunt in decades ended after just two days. While the number of bears culled never reached the 320-bear-target the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission had set, officials closed the hunt early to maintain what they call a conservative hunt.
The speed of the hunt surprised Florida’s wildlife officials, but the agency’s bear expert, Thomas Eason says, that doesn’t mean the hunt was out of control.
“We knew from the beginning that we were having our first hunt in 20 some years and it was going to be a learning experience. We were taking a very measured, conservative approach to setting the harvest objectives. I will say that we were surprised by the amount of harvest that happened in the first day. We had measures in place to close the hunt and we did after we achieved our objective,” Eason says.
The FWC sold bear hunting licenses to thousands of hunters, but pledged to stop the hunt after 320 bears were shot. Protesters opposed to the hunt had raised concerns that officials wouldn’t be able to shut the hunt down and are pointing now to regional quotas that were surpassed. For example, in the Panhandle, hunters bagged more than 100 bears, while the commission had planned for just 40. But Eason says that’s due in part to numbers based on an old population count.
“That’s one of our large, growing bear populations. It’s also one of the two where we were using data from 2002 to set the harvest objective,” Eason says.
Eason says other factors also played into the high success on the first day, like good weather. And Hunting and Game Management Director, Diane Eggeman maintains the hunt was a success.
“We are confident that this hunt got us to what we were achieving, which was to start stabilizing these large, growing populations of bears,” Eggeman says.
Over the last few years as human-bear conflict has grown, state officials have faced pressure to address the situation. And while FWC officials have pointed out, the thing drawing bears from the woods and into neighborhoods is typically garbage, they have hoped a hunt would help manage the bear population. Meanwhile, the day before the hunt began, a bear hiding in a Panhandle dumpster scratched a man before running away.